Good morning, minions. Erm, I mean book people. Welcome to the great culling. Ok, ok, I’m being dramatic on purpose. Still, this is an exciting day for an exciting post!
Although we’ve been delayed with our announcements due to 2021 kicking our ass with a barbed-wire-wrapped pole coated in snake venom, our team is proud to bring you Team 7’s top 10 quarterfinalists for the Self-Published Science-Fiction Competition.
What’s that, you say? Well, let’s just say these are the droids you’re looking for…
If you’re not familiar with SPSFC yet, you can read all about it on Hugh’s announcement post and the competition’s official website. But if you’re here for the gist of it, here goes: 300 contestants, 300 books, 10 teams.
I got lucky enough to be in one of those teams (those poor bastards), and thus, Queen’s Book Asylum has allied with Fantasy Book Critic to form a menacing frontline, featuring me (Arina), our very own Paul, Mihir (Fantasy Book Critic), Chels (Not So Secret Bookaholic), and Rowena (Beneath a Thousand Skies). If you’d like to know more about us, check out our intro post here.
And you should like, you know. Some of us have pretty dark secrets that’d blow your mind (did you know Paul once entered a bookstore and didn’t buy anything? Wild).
The best thing about this genre is how large it can be, a spectrum of the unexpected. We had a pretty interesting range in our batch, with anything from multiverse academia to cozier explorations of what it means to be human—or otherwise. To get an idea of how excited we were to get started, read about the 30 books in our allocation for round one.
In that noble quest to narrow down a batch of 30 to 3 semifinalists, we first had to pick a top 10, which was no easy peasy lemon squeezy, I’ll tell you that.
We want to sincerely thank every author who entered the competition and specifically those patient fellows who ended up in our batch. Not only do we admire your guts, but you have also taken us through new worlds and exhilarating journeys, regardless of whether you ended up in this post or not.
Alas, being a reviewer is a double-edged sword and it being a competition, we had to make some tough choices…
Fatal Extraction by Evangeline Rain
Judges say: “This was such a fun book, it combined the action-packed approach of a thriller story with the snark & comedic undertones of an urban fantasy story. Evangeline Rain certainly showcased how to make a story fun and romantic at the same time while not letting go of the action & plot twists. Definitely a title that I enjoyed heartily.”
She’s a space pirate and thief…
…who gives to the poor.
Would this modern-day Robin Hood pull off the greatest job in history?
For 10-years Nirvana led the crew she inherited from her father. They trusted her and liked the life, but she had a nagging need for revenge. It had made her some enemies.
Two world leaders wanted her.
Was the ambush the end?
It looked bad for Nirvana and her crew, but she was both a bad ass and quick thinker. The General of Panderon listened, and they made a deal for the lives of her men.
She needed a strong, capable soldier for the job.
What she got was Zane.
A shy, awkward, genius, who suffered from depression and anxiety was to be her partner in crime, but there was more to him than meets the eye. He was better with books than guns.
Don’t judge a book worm by his cover.
Roko’s Catalyst by Michael Blackbourn
Judges say: “I loved the premise for this one – my geography brain immediately seized on a world dictated by thawing and freezing, and it was absolutely the worldbuilding that sold me on Roko’s Catalyst. Not, only is this world fascinating, but I really liked how everything within this world has adapted and is coloured by the environment, from transport to the economy and settlements, and life out in the wilds. I want to spend more time in this world, and especially as the threat and plot started to unfold I found myself more and more invested, and I need to know where it goes.”
The AI-ravaged world humanity once knew has vanished under a treacherous sea. A small fleet of ships survives, trapped for thirty years in constant cycles of freezing and thawing. The ships endure, suspended in ice above a seemingly bottomless chasm. The next thaw threatens to be the final one and would put an end to the survival of the fleet.
Hendry has only known this brutal freezing cycle in his thirteen years of life. Like the other survivors, he scavenges on the ice by dogsled and races back to his ship before the icy crust melts.
Knowing that it’s only a matter of time until a big enough thaw destroys the fleet, he befriends an unlikely pair of survivors: one an old mercenary, the other a mysterious young girl. She has an ability to predict the thaws, and may have discovered the secret to escaping the knife’s edge humanity inhabits.
But someone or something wants to stop them all. Now Hendry and his companions are on a mission, and time is running out. The ice will thaw.
ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon
Judges say: “ARvekt starts off with a literal bang, a cyberfest of guns and gore. Its grim, bloody look into technology and how it blends with trauma and our concept of reality fascinated me. The worldbuilding is thought-provoking and completely immerses you in a sensorial kaleidoscope. It asks intriguing questions in a world dualized by technology, as it imagines what boundaries it could possibly breach.”
Will the battle for humanity be fought in reality? Or in her mind?
Tannis Ord is a black-ops cyborg assassin. A highly-trained human-weapon, dedicated to hunting down the last of the brain hacking syndicates. There’s just one problem…
Her mind was broken from a psychotic episode. Neural programming erased her trauma, gave her a fresh start. But when an old brain hacker cult resurfaces, and a sentient AI is set to govern the entire human population, she starts seeing things. Horrors that can’t possibly be real… that make no sense… that only she can see.
Ix, their AI Guardian, is abducting innocent citizens from the streets in broad daylight. And it’s using the Augmented Reality it has thrown over the world as cover. Is the AI hellbent on humanity’s destruction? Or is her mind tearing itself apart again?
Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin
Judges say: “IRON TRUTH is an exhilarating read, one that captures the imagination immediately thanks to great opening chapters showcasing S.A. Tholin’s deep and complex world-building. Add to this awesome tech, fantastic characterisation, and a sense of ‘epicness’, IRON TRUTH is a SF read that looks to have it all.”
When miners on a remote colony dig too deep, the golden age of space exploration comes to a bloody end. A corruption springs from Xanthe’s alien soil, possessing every mind it touches.
Embroiled in civil war, the galactic community spirals into panic, and the Primaterre Protectorate seizes control. In order to preserve Earth, its surface is quarantined, and all further deep space colonisation is outlawed.
Aboard one of the last colony ships, junior botanist Joy Somerset slumbers in cryostasis, unaware of war and corruption. Expecting the clear skies of a garden world, she instead wakes stranded on Cato – a planet whose menacing sands seem to share a hunger with the crazed locals – and Joy faces mortal peril at every turn.
Commander Cassimer, troubled by a past of epic proportions, is a Primaterre veteran dedicated to fighting the corruption. Now he leads Scathach Banneret Company’s elite strike team on a mission to recover a clandestine starship lost on Cato. On this storm-lashed world, surrounded by shadow and ruin, Cassimer risks not only failure, but the loss of what little sanity he has.
Joy and Cassimer must trust each other long enough to uncover Cato’s dark secrets, and work together to survive deranged cultists, terrorist rebels and the IRON TRUTH.
Steel Guardian by Cameron Coral
Judges say: “This was a very much heart-warming read which was action packed and also made sure to pull your heart strings. Reminding me a lot of Wall-E but for adults and mixed in with the action levels of a Terminator movie. Steel Guardian is another story that was solid surprise.”
Can a gentle robot win the fight for humanity’s last hope?
Before the Robot Uprising, Block the CleanerBot dutifully followed his programming as part of a hotel cleaning crew. Now in the aftermath of the AI Apocalypse that annihilated the world, he tries to simply do his job, avoiding the dangerous SoldierBots who wage war on the last human survivors.
But when Block discovers a human infant, his surprise attachment to the girl compels him to protect her while traveling across the metal infested wastelands of America to a safe haven. Without his help, the abandoned baby could die before they reach safety. When he encounters Nova – a surly soldier who becomes an unlikely ally – they must tackle the biggest challenge of their lives.
Together, they face mortal danger from bands of scavengers, militaristic SoldierBots, and Combat Mechs. A cyborg Bounty Hunter will stop at nothing to find Block and the child – an infant who holds the key to humanity’s future.
If you enjoy robots with a heart like WALL-E plus the action-packed adventure of The Mandalorian, then you’ll love the first book of this thrilling post-apocalyptic sci-fi series.
The Paradise Factory by Jim Keen
Judges say: “A high-octane rush and a grim look into the future of AI, exploring how machine intelligence may just shape socio-economic status. Gives you a kickass woman you can root for, on a salvage mission through a gritty, imaginative world.”
She’s a policewoman with a past. In a future ruled by AI, one bad decision could get her killed… or worse.
New York, 2055. Former UN Marine Alice Yu is a beat-down cop running from guilt in a bankrupt city. Brutally ambushed and left for dead, she’s powerless to prevent a ruthless crime boss from abducting the partner she idolizes. Though it will cost her job in a world with 99% unemployment, she vows to bring him back from the lawless and forbidden Fourth Ward Territory.
Fighting through injuries and resurfacing trauma, Yu relentlessly tracks her mentor’s trail. But when her PTSD flares in the face of a cartel death squad, her bloody background could spell her demise. And if she doesn’t succeed, the entire city is doomed.
Can Yu save the man she failed, or will her quest for redemption become a suicide mission?
The Paradise Factory is the pulse-pounding first book in the Cortex cyberpunk science fiction series. If you like gritty heroines, loyal friends, and dystopian high-tech worlds, then you’ll love Jim Keen’s action-packed adventure.
Steal the Reaper by Todd Hosea
Judges say: “This book is fast paced and full of high tech. With the main character being set the mission of stealing an alien prototype spaceship, we are shown just how far courage can get us. Watching main characters being tested on their loyalties is always a ride and this book brings just that.”
A mysterious spacecraft has crashed in a remote, mountainous region of North Korea. The ship is now in the hands of a tyrannical dictator who will stop at nothing to unlock its secrets and bring the West to its knees. As tensions rise in the wake of this threat, North Korea’s Supreme Leader is unaware that a small, prototype vessel, known as the Reaper, lays hidden within the wreckage. Its ingenious purpose could either save humanity or lead to its extinction.
Meanwhile, Captain Ava Tan is recruited for the boldest mission in military history: Steal the Reaper. Her orders are to infiltrate North Korea—the most isolated country on the planet—avoid triggering World War III, and pilot an alien vessel that is light years beyond anything she has ever flown. It is a suicide mission that will test Ava’s courage and force her to decide where her loyalties truly lie. Earth’s fate hangs in the balance and the clock is ticking.
Lost Girl by L.J. Kendall
Judges say: “The Lost Girl had a strong beginning with a great blend of action and intrigue and an interesting approach to amnesia. This book doesn’t hesitate to throw you into the thick of the action, and the pacing and shorter chapters mean that you are quickly swept into the story. A couple of us had trouble stepping past the sexual assault scene at the very beginning, still hoping to see how that plays into the rest of the book. However, the strong beginning and the potential it offered, and the fact that it had well and truly ignited my curiosity made me want to continue with this one.”
Pulled from chill waters with not a single memory of herself, she can’t tell her rescuer that someone’s trying to kill her – nor that it would be far worse if they captured her. Because she doesn’t remember.
Why though was Mason Dane in New Francisco Bay in the middle of the night? Was it entirely by luck that he lifted her from its cold embrace? Who is he? Can she trust him?
Can she trust herself? With her odd behaviors, her strange abilities… is she even human?
It’s 2063, decades after magic’s return. Hunted and on the run, it’s not the shadowy Department she should fear: it’s those who stole her memories.
That inner void however, that emptiness, has drawn the attention of uncanny forces.
For humanity, the risk is Freedom itself.
But for one lost girl – annihilation.
The Gaia Effect by Claire Buss
Judges say: “In a world where everything is controlled for you from the food you eat to whether you can have a baby, the Corporation is in the driver’s seat. This book drew me in with the intrigue of what happens when everything is controlled by a higher authority and suddenly, the lies that have been told are shown to be lies. A great book showcasing a classic dystopian trope.”
In City 42 Corporation look after you from cradle to grave. They protect you from the radiation outside the wall. They control the food, the water, the technology and most important of all, the continuation of the human race.
Kira and Jed Jenkins were lucky enough to win Collection but when their friends start falling pregnant naturally, everything changes.
How long has Corporation been lying to them? Is it really toxic outside the wall?
As the group comes to terms with the changes in their lives they discover there is a much more powerful and ancient force at work, trying to bridge the gap between man and nature.
The Reintegrators by Will Weisser
Judges say: “THE REINTEGRATORS is one of the most interesting books of the batch in that it blends science-fiction and fantasy with the metaphysical. Will Weisser’s writing style is both visual and engaging with the pages seeming to melt away as you’re uncontrollably drawn along on the supremely imaginative ride.”
Welcome to Oakmont Academy. Study hard, make friends, and whatever you do, don’t get lost in the Metaverse.
Tormented by crippling panic attacks and desperate to find a way to help his catatonic father, Teddy Cartham is running out of options.
When he receives an invitation to attend the elite academy where his father once taught, he believes his luck is changing. Until he uncovers a shocking secret—his new math teachers are Reintegrators, members of an ancient cult dedicated to exploring alternate universes.
With the help of his classmates and some unlikely allies, Teddy searches a maze of bizarre worlds for the key to his father’s shattered mind. But deadly surprises lurk in the depths of the Metaverse…
And there they are! A heartfelt thank you to all the authors who ended up in our batch, for widening our sci-fi scope and taking us where we haven’t gone before. Wherever you end up in the competition, it’s been a fun ride and a joy to read your work!
Tune in tomorrow to find out which 3 of Team 7’s top 10 books will be our semifinalists!